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Real-time visualisation makes light work of your design review

02 September 2010

Richard Blatcher describes a 3D visualisation application that takes much of the drudge out of those time-consuming design review tasks

Expensive and time-consuming design reviews are an unpleasant reality for many manufacturing companies. The process of preparing data for visualisation and review is often unwieldy and protracted and the time and cost involved in creating physical prototypes invariably limits users’ ability to evaluate multiple design variations.

Both in-house management teams and their end clients are naturally reluctant to approve designs based on low quality prototypes. With today’s methodologies, only visualisation experts and consultants are typically capable of developing high-quality design presentations. And even they often need to access multiple visualisation products to create compelling imagery.

Fortunately, software is now available, such as Autodesk’s own Showcase application, which is capable of overcoming these obstacles by delivering high-quality real-time 3D visualisation to streamline the design and development workflow.

Real-time 3D visualisation dramatically simplifies the process of preparing and presenting data for evaluation and design review. It makes realistic, interactive visualisation accessible to designers and provides the sophisticated control required by visualisation experts. Applications that deliver this kind of capability also provide an excellent complement to digital prototyping techniques, which are used increasingly widely by manufacturers to facilitate design innovation.

The first key area where these kinds of software tools can have an impact is in data preparation. The opportunity to use these systems to import models from a broad range of CAD software is crucial as is the ability to convert them to a format suitable for high-quality interactive 3D visualisation.

This kind of interoperability and the flexibility it delivers can act as a key point of competitive differentiation for many manufacturing companies. Autodesk Showcase, for example, supports its customers’ requirements to import data from a range of the company’s own CAD formats but also supports a variety of third party CAD formats including JT, UGS NX, CatiaV4/V5, SolidWorks and ProENGINEER/Granite.

Equally, the use of journal files can help save time and drive productivity by allowing users to import scripts with the unnecessary geometry removed. Further time can be saved by monitoring source files and automatically updating visualisations when changes are made, and by using scripts to prepare data outside the application and convert large files.

Powering up the digital prototype
Interacting with digital models in real-time allows users to build confidence in any decisions they make, based on digital prototypes alone, and helps them to reduce the time and cost of building physical prototypes in the early design phase of the product development process. In particular, this approach allows users quickly to refine and finalise the aesthetic ‘look and feel’ of designs before physical prototypes are built.

Using this kind of functionality enables manufacturers to create high-quality presentations that aid decision-making. By generating photo-realistic imagery with superior visual fidelity, it is possible to represent ‘real-world’ materials, lighting and textures with great accuracy.

Equally, it allows designers to employ a variety of different materials and geometries during presentations and to switch between design alternatives with a single mouse-click. Users can make a small change to the visualisation and immediately see its impact on the design. And they can generate accurate realistic imagery from 3D CAD data that not only conveys form and function but also creates environmental context to communicate brand character.

This approach helps facilitate design approvals by overcoming the reluctance of clients or in-house management to make a commitment based solely on low quality images. And the best of these types of applications can bring together all the stakeholders to make informed decisions. Showcase, for example, helps users present and review models in an environment in which team members can make reliable decisions locally and via remote sessions, resulting in an efficient and economical design review process.

To be successful in a commercial context, these visualisation tools also need to be easy-to-use. Access to the latest technology is worth little if it is not combined with an ergonomic architecture. Taking the example of Showcase again, with its well documented application programming interface (API) and scripting language, the application can be accessed on a programming level to meet specific customer needs.

The ability of solutions to prepare, process and present 3D design data in a single application can also help streamline design workflows by simplifying the preparation of data for high-quality visualisation and further use. Tools that can allow design model changes at the same time as preparing imagery for design reviews provide further benefits for manufacturers by significantly reducing preparation time and allowing design and visualisation work to be carried out in parallel.

And the software that delivers real-time 3D visualisation is commercially available now to bring a range of benefits to product developers, whether it be the presentation of multiple design options, locally and via remote sessions, or simply to enable team members and customers to make better decisions. And viewing photorealistic imagery in real-world contexts gives reviewers the confidence to approve designs in an efficient and economical manner.

The era of expensive and unwieldy design review processes may finally be about to come to an end.

Richard Blatcher is head of marketing, manufacturing, EMEA, Autodesk


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